Making Time for Family Meals

Feeding a healthy family can feel like a daunting task at times. Life is busy and chaotic, and there is a lot of nutritional information and advice to sift through. With all the information out there, what is the best way to feed a healthy family?

Whether you have a young child or a teenager, one of the most important ways to ensure that your child is developing healthy eating habits and getting the proper nutrients is to have regular family meals.

Children who eat regular family meals tend to eat more fruits and vegetables, are less likely to snack on unhealthy foods, and have less behavioral problems compared with other children. Family meals provide children with social and emotional support, sustain good parenting practices, and can teach children to like a variety of foods.

Here are a few quick guidelines to help you in planning family meals:

  • Choose foods that you find rewarding to prepare and eat—you’ll be more likely to cook these foods and this can help create a positive attitude about the meal.
  • Don’t cater or short-order cook—offer everyone in the family the same meal.
  • If you serve an unfamiliar food, pair it with a familiar or favorite food—this can help encourage children to try new foods.
  • Put the meal on the table and let children pick and choose what they will eat—this will help alleviate any battles over food.
  • Turn off outside distractions like the TV, music or computer, and spend time talking and interacting with each other—this can make family meals less stressful and more enjoyable.

For some good tips about family meals and feeding a healthy family, check out this website.

So, what are the best types of foods to serve at family meals? In general, planning meals that incorporate all the food groups will help ensure that your children are getting a good balance of nutrients.

Plan meals that have the following elements:

  • A carbohydrate source (whole grains are best)
  • A protein source (e.g. lean meats, poultry, fish, beans, legumes, nuts, etc.)
  • Plenty of fruits and vegetables
  • A good dairy or non-dairy source of calcium (milk, yogurt, cheese, calcium-fortified soy, rice or almond milks, etc.)

I have come across a few articles that might be helpful. This article gives information about stocking a pantry for quick nutritious meals, and this article talks about making fun healthy lunches with leftovers.

I realize that life is busy, especially when family members are all involved in different activities. Each family is unique, so find what works best for your family. For some, this may mean eating the family meal a little later, after a child’s sporting event. For others, it may mean setting aside time on the weekends for family meals. Whatever the solution, making time for family meals is definitely worth it.

Rachel Cope MPH, RD, CD